Careers in Student Engagement: Expectations vs. Reality
It’s easy to see why people are drawn to careers in student affairs: working on a college campus, interacting daily with students on ways to improve campus life, and assurances that no two days will ever really be the same. That said, there are some challenges that come with the territory, and sometimes the realities of careers in student engagement can differ from the expectations.
So what do student affairs professionals do? These positions typically cover a broad spectrum of roles, from student life and student activities to campus recreation and residence life. Many colleges and universities have opportunities for highly specialized roles, including first year & orientation directors, diversity and inclusion roles, and transfer student specialists.
What all of these positions share, though, is a focus on finding ways to make sure students are safe on campus, successful in their college endeavors, and able to make the most out of this pivotal time in their lives.
So what does it take to kickstart a career in student engagement? For most entry level roles, a bachelor’s degree is required, and while degrees can vary greatly, those in business, human resource management, sociology, psychology and education can be helpful. What you may find, though, is that upward mobility is challenging without an advanced degree. Most senior positions require a master’s degree in higher education administration or a similar area of focus, but tuition remission programs at many schools can make it possible to earn that degree while working in student affairs and gaining valuable experience.
A Day in the Life of a Student Engagement Professional
Once you’ve got the foot in the door and you’re working in student affairs, what does daily like look like? This where the expectations and reality may somewhat differ!
Expectation: Fun Events! Concerts! Campus Block Parties, Oh My!
Reality: Limited Budgets! Logistics! Intra-department Coordination, Oh My!
As a student, it’s easy to show up to exciting campus events and easily get drawn into how creating those events on campus would be a fun and fulfilling career – and you would be right! But it’s also easy to overlook the challenges that come with that. Limited budgets and ever-growing needs can require a lot of innovation to overcome, and the amount of time invested into coordinating with other departments and planning logistics for many of these events can be draining.
Expectation: Challenges and Struggles
Reality: Rewards That Far Outweigh the Challenges
Maybe you’re walking into a career in student engagement fully expecting it to be riddled with challenges to overcome .And you would be right! But the reality is that working with young people, and having the opportunity to serve as a mentor to college students just starting out on their own is one of the most rewarding careers imaginable. You will have the opportunity to make a significant impact on student success on campus, and that will carry over into your students’ lives well beyond college.
Why Choose a Career in Student Affairs?
There are so many benefits to careers in student affairs, and those go even beyond the impact you’ll have. The growth potential is limitless, with opportunities to advance from entry level positions, up to roles as Dean of Students, Vice Presidents, and beyond. The work is exciting and fun, and while you will spend some of your time around a conference room table at meetings, you’ll also be out on campus, meeting with and working with students in a dynamic environment. Many schools offer free or reduced tuition for employees and their families, so you can continue your development and education.
Careers in student affairs are fun, rewarding, challenging, and always changing. Once you’ve made the decision to start a career in student engagement, make plans to join a national organization like NASPA (Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education) and let your creativity and innovation help spur the next trend in driving student engagement on campus.